Local Content

August 17, 2007

Why do FM stations play music?

I’m not being facetious here. Indian FM radio stations have been complaining that the royalties they have to pay on music are squeezing their margins and even driving them bankrupt. Not only that, if your value proposition is good/ popular music, you have to compete not only with other FM stations, but with music channels on TV, satellite radio, and CD/ cassette/ MP3 players (which keep getting cheaper every year). How the hell do you make music a USP?

One way to do this ts the Go FM or Radio Indigo way: differentiate yourself and play music which nobody else plays (Western music in their case). Except that Go FM found it couldn’t make any money doing that and moved out of the niche. I sincerely hope Radio Indigo doesn’t go the same way – evenings without Malavika would be intolerable – but let’s not get too optimistic. In the US, niches are large enough or valuable enough to support themed stations – country, jazz, or rock – in India, they don’t seem to be, or at least radio stations can’t figure out how to crack the market.

Extending this, why not differentiate yourself by not playing royalty and fee-based music at all (or substantially less). Ways to do this would include:

  • Play music owned by smaller companies who don’t have enough bargaining power1 to charge significant royalties. This does raise the frightening possibility of FM radio stations dedicated to struggling Bhangra acts from Doaba, or Bhojpuri film music, but hey, there’s probably a market out there.
  • Chuck recorded music altogether. Get local musicians into the studio and let them play live. This will lead to a lot of crap going out over the airwaves, but will also help in the discovery of true gems. It also has immense branding scope. Radio City Bangalore used to do this on Sundays – I don’t know if they still do.
  • Chuck music altogether. Just have people talking. This could be radio drama, or talk radio. Regulations prohibit private stations from doing news, but they can still do interviews and current affairs. And if the subject is city-specific, the audience is matched to the content. MTV is forced to make shows with an all-India appeal, but FM stations can make shows customised to their own, city-sized coverage areas. This is being done in Bangalore – Indigo decided to run Independence Day specials on people who had made a difference – and they interviewed a guy who had volunteered to become a Bangalore traffic warden. It was completely Bangalore-specific, with nothing to do with the rest of India. I loved it. (In fact, it’s what prompted the post.) Finally, there was quality MSM coverage of local issues. And Radio City has been doing similar stuff for ages, Wimpy assures me.

The question is, why aren’t more stations doing this more of the time. Some reasons I can think of are:

  1. Supply side issues for music: playing local musicians requires local musicians to exist in the first place. Even if they exist, setting up a system to find, filter and record them is going to be long and painful.
  2. Supply-side issues for non-music: this is going to be a real problem. Doing radio dramas or current affairs or talk shows means you either have to hire stars or create them, whether it’s drama stars or journalists or presenters. So first you’ve got to fight to find talent – a massive problem in India especially right now – and then you’ve got to fight to prevent TV channels from poaching it.
  3. Demand side issues for music: Gut-feel, this is probably the most major issue. I don’t think India has developed a long tail consumption culture yet. Eardrums2 might all be chasing Himesh Reshammiya rather than the neighbourhood rock band/ Carnatic singer/ school choir. But is this just an issue of bad marketing?
  4. Demand side issues for non-music: Gut feel again, this is probably the most minor issue. Going by the success of TV news channels, as a concept there’s probably enough demand for talk radio or current affairs, especially if it’s localised. The problem is going to be with the level of localisation. In Bangalore or Pune, one city affairs channel should be enough. But Bombay will have different audiences and advertisers for town, for the western suburbs, for the central suburbs, and for Navi Mumbai. Delhi will have similar problems, though perhaps not as extreme. Perhaps this is why stations in Delhi and Mumbai are so homogenuous – chasing 20% of the music listening audience is still going to give you a bigger audience than chasing all the current affairs listeners in Delhi.

To a limited extent, localised non-music content has taken off, even if it’s just small segments like traffic and weather updates. These are low-investment and replicable, though, and I’m waiting for differentiated content to come up.

There are two more posts I can make on this topic now that I’ve started off: one on the regulatory changes that would make localised content spring up faster, and another one on why localised content matters so much. Sadly, my post backlog is massive, and I’m making no promises about when/ if I ever write them.

1: Or as it’s called in Punjabi, aukaat.
2: If the unit of TV viewership is the eyeball, shouldn’t the unit of radio listenership be the eardrum?

Dear Radio City,

August 12, 2007

I have taken Wimpy’s advice and started listening to your breakfast show on my drive to work. While Vasanthi is not as awesome as Indigo’s Malavika, there is no denying that she is very good indeed. Listening to her in the morning helps a corporate ho like myself face the numbing reality of his life one day at a time.

Considering your promos advertise Vasanthi rather than the music, you seem to have realised that she adds substantially higher brand value than the Bollywood songs (which all other stations have anyway) or the traffic report (likewise). So I fail to see why you don’t give her more airtime.

I first have to sit through five minutes of ads. Then you play a promo pitching Sunshine Girl Vasanthi. Then, to my utter annoyance, instead of hearing Sunshine Girl Vasanthi, I hear Deedar De or something equally useless. Followed by another song on the same lines. After fifteen minutes of ads and songs I don’t want to hear, Vasanthi gives a two minute traffic update or contest, after which the cycle repeats itself.

For the love of FSM, end this madness. I want to hear Sunshine Girl Vasanthi, not Bollywood songs. Please. Give her more airtime. Instead of going straight to the songs, let her speak for a while. And also please stop playing songs that are more suitable for a party in Patiala than for a morning commute. If you do this you can rest assured that I will switch permanently from Cindu and The Big Breakfast.



It Should Be Straight Enough to Read

June 22, 2007

A month ago, Garuda’s mall escalators were advertising Levi’s straight jeans (they’ve switched to advertising Miss Lee Slim Jeans now). Anyhow the ads show a gay/ lesbian couple (must… resist… temptation… to… say… ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that.’) with the tagline ‘Not Everything is as Straight’.

The trouble is that when it came to sticking the ads onto the escalator bottoms, Garuda Mall didn’t do it straight. Here, these photos explain. This is the down escalator:

Straight Jeans - The Down Escalator

See, you just stand on the escalator and look at the ad as you go down.

But here’s the up escalator:

Straight Jeans - The Up Escalator

See, you’re turned away from the ad. The only way to see it is if you’re traveling on the escalator backwards. And even then you end up reading it from bottom to top.

RJ Maalveekaa

June 20, 2007

(That’s what her name sounds like on the Radio Indigo promos for The Big Couch. I have no idea how it’s actually spelt.)

I realised today that her enthusiasm for happy happy songs and Justin Timberlake and Ronan Keating is quite alarming. She projects a sort of bubbly and gurgling enthusiasm that is fine when received over radio, but would probably be horrifying up close.

Your Town is Very Famous for the Little Girl

May 9, 2007

At the Steering Column

You know, I might get decent at portraiture after all. Someday.

A Good Reason to be an I-banker

April 20, 2007

You can afford to eat regularly at Olive Bar and Grill.

I, of course, am a mere commercial banker. So despite being a grossly overpaid MBA I cannot afford to eat at Olive Beach Bangalore. Unfortunately the fates decreed otherwise.

I foolishly did not carry an umbrella yesterday. Thus, on my way back from the gym,  I got caught in the rain. I dashed to the nearest place of shelter, which just happened to be Olive Beach.

Now I had heard of Olive Beach and had wanted to try it out. I knew that it was pricey, but had no actual clue of how pricey it was. And I had no idea that it was a part of the Olive Bar and Grill chain. So I marched in, dripping hair and all, and asked for a table for one.


Yes, I was out of the rain, I was in a nice candlelit restaurant with high ceilings, and there was very good jazz playing, and the food was fabulous, but there was still the matter of the bill, which came to a kilorupee for salad, risotto and mousse. The situation was analogous to the one faced by the young prince who manages to find a lavish palace in the middle of the harsh and unforgiving forest, and happily rests there for a while, only to be saddled later on with a quest involving dragons and other nasty things by the princess living there.

Anyway. I have to decide a couple of years down the line whether to pursue the rat race with vigour, whether to put prodigal son and join the family business, or whether to do a PhD. The fact that some of these options will make it easier than others to go and eat at Olive will definitely be an important variable in the decision process.

Stocked Out

April 16, 2007

Things that just aren’t available in Bangalore: 1 Kg boxes of Good Earth Muesli and 1 Litre packs of Real Activ spinach juice. Why?

This wouldn’t happen if Jesus was in the supermarket meeting my needs.

Cull the Kids Instead

April 1, 2007

Right. These days the BMP is klling stray dogs. This has a lot of animal lovers unhappy, leading to many anguished blogposts (two examples here and here). And inevitably these posts attract commentors who shrilly and hysterically go ‘But don’t you know that stray dogs are killing children? Are you more worried about dogs or children?’ Practically the only thing missing is the actual statement ‘Will someone please think of the children?

So I have the solution. After all I’m naturally brilliant. Rather than culling dogs, let the BMP cull kids who stray into public spaces instead.

This solution pleases everyone. Animal lovers will get to see Bangalore’s stray dogs gamboling wild and free. And with no kids on the streets, there will be no attacks on them by dogs either. And the BMP will surely kill the kids more humanely than it is killing the dogs.

Fewer children will also have beneficial downstream effects. To start with, it will reduce pressure on the strained and overburdened education system. Systematic culling will eventually attenuate the supply of students so much that there will no longer be a constraint in the number of university seats. Nobody will be tense about their board exams any more. With seats going free, reservations will also cease to be contentious. In fact, with no new generations to perpetuate it, the caste system itself will cease to exist.

And you thought that the Kansa Society was only about ensuring peace and quiet in restaurants and public transport. Piffle. Our agenda will transform the whole world into a paradise.

Vodkathon Were There

April 1, 2007

At Shiok, where else?

Present: Anand, Suman, Prabhu, Zero, Chenthil, Arun, and Aditya. Drunkenness led to discussing how to rid the world of free market fundamentalism, how the true test of being an Old Skool blogger is remembering when Nidhi Taparia was the prettiest girl blogger, why we were the Real BarCampers, and our next project: www.extrashot.in.

My humble contribution to the noble endeavour: a Californian Iced Tea and a Green Apple Martini.

Update: Poto!

Green Apple Martini

Size Does Matter

March 17, 2007

To my great delight, I discovered today that Fresh and Fresh on 100 Ft. Road stocks not only Kabuli pomegranates but also North Indian carrots. The carrot season will end in a couple of weeks, so this was a particularly nick-of-time discovery. The past three months I’ve been unable to find North Indian carrots anywhere in Bangalore- supermarket or traditional.

The question is not about the taste of the carrot (though the Fresh and Fresh attendant claimed that North Indian carrots are better for making both gajrela and sambhar), but of shape.

South Indian carrots are too short. You can chop them up and cook them with beans, and they taste great, but they just can’t live up to the expectations I have from carrots. I grew up in Delhi. The pleasure of washing a carrot, and chewing it raw in the winter sun is not to be understated. And this is where the long, thin, and tapering shape of North Indian carrots comes in useful. The short and squat South Indian varieties are over in two bites.

For more insights into the significance of the size and shape of carrots, read this post by theothernilu, and this xkcd strip.